I recently returned from SXSW Interactive, the giant geek-fest that happens in Austin, Texas every year. For my money, it’s the place to be to see what is happening in the interactive space. And I think that many authors could benefit from attending next year.
But let’s be clear: SXSW isn’t a publishing conference. It’s not a convention. So if you’re not writing books about interactive or digital things, you may wonder why I recommend you go.
Here’s the reason: the world is changing faster than you imagine. This conference exists on the bleeding edge. Go, and you stand a much greater chance of not being left behind. Go to forward your knowledge and expertise in the interactive world. That needs to be your goal.
Often times authors have their own ideas on how to maximize their benefit of attending conferences and conventions. Remember when I said this was neither? Pack away your assumptions, authors. I’ll give you 7 tips on how authors should approach and engage at SXSW 2012.
- Leave your books at home. You aren’t here to sell. You’re here to listen and learn. So don’t schlep. Don’t pack that extra bag full of books. Forget burning CD-Rs. Skip the thumb drives. This isn’t where you will sell books. Unless you’re fortunate enough to land one of the coveted speaking spots. In that case, the on-location bookstore will probably carry your titles. If you are lucky enough to find someone in the industry or with something that looks promising, you still shouldn’t sell. Instead, take this as an opportunity to tell them about you – specifically – and find out how they can help you. If they can’t, be nice about it and bring up your concerns. If what they offer is not for you, that’s OK. Keep their product or service in mind and maybe you can share with someone else.
- Stay close to the hotel. That means booking your hotel early. Things will change for you so fast, it’s nice to be within a short walking distance to the convention center.
- Watch the gadgets. Loads of new stuff get launched at SXSW. Most of it won’t be of interest to you as an author. But some certainly will. Pay attention to anything that lets readers interact with books, stories, and authors. Think about how you can capitalize on those.
- Go to publishing panels/keynotes. Even though this isn’t a conference about publishing, plenty of the people in attendance and speaking are in the industry. They know their audience lives on the bleeding edge, so they’ll craft their talks accordingly. Go. Listen. Learn.
- Don’t be an author. You’re going to meet a lot of people. And most of them are going to ask you what you do. When asked, say you’re in publishing or interested in changes to publishing. Resist the temptation to claim to be an author. Not because it’s something to be ashamed of, but so you don’t have to carry out the typical “oh, and what is your book about?” conversation. Remember — you’re not selling here. You’re learning.
- Plan ahead. Then abandon your plan. SXSW puts out a series of tools — official and less-so — to help plan out your activities while in Austin. They’re great, but of-the-moment things happen. Don’t be a slave to your schedule. I attended about half the panels I was planning. Every time I skipped one, I got substantial value out of that which caused me to skip. Let SXSW happen to you, too.
- Open your mind. Digital is more than ebooks and .mp3 files. This field is always in flux. You will never have your arms around it. All you can do is toss in a grappling hook and try to hang on.
Been to SXSW before? Please share your tips for authors in the comments below. See you in Austin in 2012! Book it now…